Ducks ink blueliner Sami Vatanen to four-year, $19.5-million deal

The Anaheim Ducks have locked up restricted free agent-to-be Sami Vatanen to a four-year, $19.5-million contract. The 25-year-old scored nine goals and a career-high 38 points in 71 games in 2015-16.

Sami Vatanen has become an integral part of the Anaheim Ducks’ defense, and now the 25-year-old rearguard will be compensated as such.

The Ducks announced Saturday that Vatanen has signed a four-year, $19.5-million contract that will see him become the highest-paid defenseman on the Anaheim roster next season. Vatanen’s new deal will carry an annual cap hit of $4.875 million and, according to the Orange County Register’s Eric Stephens, will pay the defenseman $5 million in each of the next three seasons before dipping to $4.5 million in 2019-20.

The signing is an important one for the future of the Ducks blueline and rewards Vatanen following a career year.

This past season, Vatanen notched nine goals and 38 points, a new career-high. Beyond his on-ice production, Vatanen averaged more than 21 minutes of ice time per game, the third-most of all defensemen in Anaheim, and logged the second-highest average ice time on both the power play and penalty kill of any Ducks defender.

Signing Vatanen signals the first of what should be several major restricted free agent signings this off-season for the Ducks. Along with Vatanen, forwards Rickard Rakell and Brandon Pirri are RFAs, as well as defenseman Hampus Lindholm and goaltender Frederik Andersen. Anaheim also has several RFAs to consider bringing back among the crop of players who spent the past season in the AHL.

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The Ducks may have to get creative with some signings moving forward, however, as contracts for Rakell, Lindholm and Andersen could eat the majority of the roughly $13.2 million Anaheim has in available cap space. That’s not to mention six players who were on the Ducks’ roster at the end of the campaign are also eligible for unrestricted free agency, including winger David Perron and center Mike Santorelli.

That said, the Ducks could choose to relieve some of the cap pressure by shipping out Andersen, who is likely to be the 1B to John Gibson’s 1A in goal. Andersen played much of the post-season for the Ducks, but Gibson is the goaltender of the future in Anaheim. Keeping both goaltenders — and chancing losing one of the pair in the expected expansion draft — might prove costly, financially and in terms of filling out the roster this coming season.